Today is “Malala Day,” a global day of action in support of the Pakistani teenager who was shot simply because she insisted on her right to go to school.
In his role as UN special envoy for global education, former British prime minister Gordon Brown declared today a day in support of Malala Yousafzai to mark the one-month anniversary of her shooting near her Swat Valley home — and to call attention to the estimated 32 million girls around the world who are denied the right to go to school.
Brown said today would also help build on the momentum of the UN secretary-general’s Education First initiative to show that the world will no longer let education be a privilege for a few, but instead be a right for all.
Brown will be marking the day by delivering a petition containing more than a million signatures to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, urging him to make education a reality, not just for girls, but for all Pakistani children. He is also planning on announcing a new foundation in Malala’s honor because she had told friends that she wanted to set up a foundation to campaign for all the girls in the world who are not in school.
On Oct. 11 the UN marked its first International Day of the Girl and Plan International released a report that said that one in every three girls is denied an education, a ban that condemns them to poverty and wastes their potential.
The humanitarian non-governmental organization called on world leaders to ensure a minimum of nine years schooling for all children.
“An educated girl is less vulnerable to violence, less likely to marry and have children when still a child herself and more likely to be literate and healthy into adulthood — as are her own children,” Plan International chief executive Nigel Chapman said.
“Her earning power is increased and she is more likely to invest her income for the benefit of her family, community and country. It is not an exaggeration to say educating girls can save lives and transform futures,” he said.
In Taiwan, young girls do not have to risk gunmen to go to school, but that does not mean that problems do not exist in terms of equal access to educational resources. The rich-poor gap in family income and the urban-rural divide has led to an unequal playing field.
The Ministry of Education is preparing for the implementation of a reform plan that will extend free, compulsory education from nine years to 12, or from junior-high school to high school. Education will still be compulsory for just nine years, but those who want to continue their education can do so without having to pay tuition or pass an entrance examination (unless they are seeking admission to one of the top-ranked high schools such as First Girls High School). The plan divides the nation into 15 educational districts and students will be allowed to apply to any high school within their district.
The program has attracted widespread controversy from students, parents and educators because it has been so poorly explained — and due to fear that it will be implemented before the necessary education materials, resources and administrative system are in place.
Much more work must be done if the program is to have a chance of transforming Taiwan’s education system, but both critics and proponents should take a moment to reflect on the problems that students in Taiwan do not face, but that girls like Malala must deal with every day around the world.